DC Court of Appeals Upholds Legal Malpractice Award


The District of Columbia Court of Appeals has affirmed a trial court’s ruling decision that the negligence of a law firm prevented a client from prevailing in an employment discrimination case. The client sued his former attorneys for legal malpractice when they failed to follow a judge’s order to respond to a motion in an discrimination action against the client’s former employer.

The attorneys filed a complaint, alleging that the client’s former boss told him he was too old to perform his job, terminated him shortly thereafter and replaced him with a younger worker. The employer filed a motion to dismiss the complaint, to which the attorneys never responded, even after a judge ordered them to file a response. The case was dismissed with prejudice, giving rise to the malpractice action.

A trial took place on the legal malpractice claim, resulting in a $230,000 jury verdict for the client. The attorneys appealed, claiming that any negligence was not the proximate cause of any damages suffered by the client. The legal issue was whether or not a reasonable jury could find, based on the evidence, that the attorneys’ negligence prevented Ross from winning his discrimination case.

The appellate court found that the client’s testimony was enough to make a prima facie case for discrimination, and specifically that the employer’s statements alone would be enough to succeed in a discrimination suit. Because the Defendant attorneys failed to offer any evidence undermining the client’s testimony, the court concluded that a reasonable jury could find in his favor in a discrimination case. Thus, the failure to respond to the motion to dismiss was the proximate cause of the client’s damages and constituted legal malpractice.

Source: Martin v Ross.doc

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